Given his trendsetting legacy with early F-bodies, the logical reaction to Pro Touring pioneer Mark Stielow’s latest build is, “that’s a funny-looking ’69 Camaro.” But the visionary builder took a big step out of his comfort zone with this LT-swapped, two-wheel-drive 1978 K5 Blazer.
“I’ve always loved the design of these Blazers, and I wanted to build something for long-haul drives—something that was comfortable, had room for a week’s worth of gear, and was forget-about-it reliable,” he says. “I didn’t build it to race; I built it to drive.”
The project started in earnest more than a year ago, after months of searching online for the perfect candidate vehicle, which revealed itself via a Craigslist ad in North Carolina. A deal was struck and Stielow headed down to the Tar Heel state from Michigan to pick it up. He drove it around for about a month while searching for the next piece of the project: the drivetrain.
“I wanted to keep it all very simple and straightforward, with an LT engine and transmission from a late-model truck,” he says. “No supercharger, no big cam or anything like that. Just a modern take-out engine and transmission.” He found it all through Ohio-based Stricker Auto Parts, which specializes in salvaging vehicles written off in shipping-train derailments. “I was able to get everything for the swap,” he says. “And I mean everything: the engine, transmission, air box, radiator, cooling fans, fuse box, powertrain control module and more—even the emissions equipment; because I wanted to retain all of the catalytic converters.”
With his busy job at the General Motors Proving Grounds, however, build time was something Stielow didn’t have in abundance, so he turned to Matt Gurjack’s shop, Sled Alley, to handle the installation and supporting fabrication work. “I wanted the truck done for the spring, and Matt could work on it 40 hours a week, while I might have been able to squeeze in maybe 10 hours a week after work,” says Stielow. “Matt has a great eye for detail, and I knew he’d knock it out of the park.”
He did. It looks like a factory installation under the hood, albeit one that takes up a lot more real estate than the simple carbureted 350 that came out of the Blazer. That’s Gurjack’s forte, though, as he’s had a hand in several of Stielow’s Camaro builds, as well as builds for others.
The engine is the L83-code 5.3-liter V-8 backed by GM’s six-speed automatic transmission. Holley’s LT-swap engine mounts were used for the installation, but custom brackets were required to attach them to the engine. The stock transmission cross member was retained, but simply moved back one set of holes. Sled Alley also fabbed all the brackets to mount the radiator, fuse block, and air box, elements that all look innocuous enough under the hood, but nonetheless took hours and hours of time to build.
Fortunately, things were a little easier with the exhaust system. “We even were able to retain the original exhaust manifolds,” says Stielow. “The only real change was a slight modification to accommodate the driver-side converter, but all three of the original converters were retained, and we simply fabricated an exhaust system behind them.”
One of the other big needs for such a swap was an instrument panel that would accommodate the electronic signals of the powertrain controller, and Stielow turned to Dakota Digital for that. Their direct-fit instruments slot into the original cluster for an integrated appearance that, again, was essentially unheard of only a few years ago. Like the engine swap, they look factory-installed in the Blazer.
The only other significant change or upgrade to the interior, which still wears its original door panels and carpeting, is re-covered seats. Stielow turned to SPC Interiors in suburban Detroit to stitch together stock-appearing, blue-and-white plaid seats. More than 40 years later, they’re still stylish, too.
On the outside, the original faded blue-over-white paintwork was retained, but the Blazer was given a more contemporary stance with a Ridetech suspension upgrade and 18-inch wheels. Because Ridetech doesn’t offer a kit specifically for 2WD Blazers, Stielow adapted one of its Square-Body C10 kits. The wheels are 18×9-inchers all around from Detroit Steel Wheels, wrapped in Michelin 255/45R18 tires in front and 275/45R18 rubber in the rear. That’s about it for exterior alterations. The rest of the truck is stone-cold stock; and with the stock 355 horsepower from the L83 engine, it will never pose a performance threat to Stielow’s Camaro builds. Then again, that was never the goal.